Library backers assail Owens

They say executive plays politics in delay of facility funding

May 04, 2000|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Angry Crofton leaders launched an e-mail campaign yesterday accusing County Executive Janet S. Owens of "political favoritism" and "double speak" in her decision to again postpone funding for their proposed library.

The e-mail notice, sent by Doug Underhill, chairman of the Build a Crofton Library Now Committee, says Owens "snubbed" Crofton for the second year in a row when she bumped funding for the $9.7 million project to fiscal year 2004 and instead included money in her proposed budget for a west county regional library for Odenton.

The letter warns that the library branch, for which land was purchased 10 years ago, may never be built, and it urges residents to turn out for next week's budget hearings in hopes of getting funding restored.

"Her agenda is to kill the Crofton library slowly by pushing for the regional library in Odenton," the letter says. "Her decision is based not on the needs of the people, but on political favoritism."

Some residents point to the fact that Crofton is represented on the County Council by John J. Klocko III, a Republican, while Owens is a Democrat.

Although a larger branch library for Crofton has long been a top priority for the county library system's board of directors, Owens removed funding for the facility in last-minute budget changes this week, as she did the year before.

Last year, Owens said she needed more money for schools. This year, she cited a recommendation by the Planning Advisory Board that gave priority to the larger facility in Odenton. The report said Crofton's branch can "adequately serve the near term needs of the citizens" while Odenton is "woefully undersized."

Crofton's library, at 14,000 square feet, is the fifth-largest of the 15 in the county and last year was the fourth-most-used facility, county library spokeswoman Andrea Lewis said yesterday. Odenton's library, at 9,000 square feet, is third from last in size and usage.

Planning Advisory Board Chairman Newton Gentry III said the board focused on projected growth for the Odenton area and plans for the Odenton Town Center.

"We assume the county is making a significant commitment toward the Odenton Town Center development," he said. "If you look at Crofton, the growth population there is expected to be stagnant over the next 10 years, because it's mostly built out. The growth population for Odenton is supposed to be staggering. If we have limited resources, we need to use them for the greatest number of people."

Underhill agreed that funds should go where the people are. But, he says, the people are in Crofton, pointing to a petition with nearly 4,000 signatures in support of a new facility.

"I can't understand why you would want to build a library where there aren't customers as opposed to where they are," he said.

Crofton residents also note that plans for their proposed facility -- a 25,000-square-foot building at Route 424 and Reidel Road -- are complete, while the $624,000 included in Owens' budget proposal for Odenton will go toward design and planning. If both projects got under way this year, Crofton's doors would open a year before Odenton's $13.1 million, 40,000-square-foot facility.

"Why stop [a Crofton library] now, especially when it would benefit Gambrills and Odenton while the regional library is being built?" asked Cynthia Johnston, a board member for the Crofton Civic Association. "You're talking two to four years before [the west county area] gets facilities."

Crofton residents fear sentiment will change with a new, regional library nearby. They are concerned their funds will evaporate and services at the current branch will be curtailed to staff the demands of the larger, regional facility.

That has neighbors claiming Crofton is being shortchanged as Owens passes out favors.

"Crofton is probably the most-Republican district," said Richard Trunnell, who serves on the civic association board and the library committee. "If your plan is to get re-elected, the people you're going to give to is the people in Odenton. I just haven't seen any services come this way."

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